About the Book
I. Why I wrote the book
II. What spiritual alchemy is, and what being a spiritual alchemist involves
III. Some thoughts about obstacles that spiritual alchemists may encounter on their path—along with suggestions for navigating and getting past those obstacles
I. Why I wrote The Spiritual Alchemist
The book grew out of a workshop I’ve been giving in North America for over 15 years, teaching people how to hear the voice of their unique soul. One question that people often ask me is how I—a writer, editor, and writing teacher—created the workshop in the first place.
As I explain in the book, ever since I was small, I’ve been fascinated by the thrill of imagination, the magnetism of creativity—and the power of fear to destroy them both. Fear eventually stopped me from writing. I not only became afraid of fear, I believed that I was a failure because I couldn’t make it go away.
Along my path as a writer—including a ten-year writing block and a decades-long struggle to find a voice that was truly mine—I discovered that pure magic lay at the confluence of creativity, self-awareness, and spirituality. When all three converged, they amplified one another. For example, every time I combined meditation with writing, or writing with self-awareness, my experience of each heightened. By stumbling, trial and error, and sheer intent, I learned to listen to my soul, the source of my true voice. Fear no longer made me feel like a failure and was therefore no longer frightening.
Wanting to teach what I’d learned, I created a series of transformational workshops. The Spiritual Alchemist evolved from a workshop whose focus and intent was spiritual alchemy: teaching participants how to listen to the voice of their own soul. They asked me to write a book for friends and relatives who couldn’t take the workshop. The challenge for me was to give readers the exercises without losing the value of the workshop experience. My choice has been to include both.
Part One of The Spiritual Alchemist introduces spiritual alchemy as a path and a practice that allow us to listen to the voice of our own soul, that larger part of us that knows why we are here and what our purpose for this lifetime is.
Part Two contains the chapters with the exercises, followed by helpful stories and lessons from the workshop.
The chapters in Part Three range from discussing issues of resistance and fears of “doing it wrong” to offering stories and advice from those who have taken the workshop more than once—along with a final chapter pointing the way ahead, with new exercises and ideas for becoming a practicing spiritual alchemist.
II. What is a spiritual alchemist?
Many people look at the title and ask: What is a spiritual alchemist? What is spiritual alchemy? For the whole answer, you’ll need to read the book. For a brief answer, read on:
A spiritual alchemist is a person who seeks spiritual direction, spiritual connection, and spiritual growth by embarking on a fearless, joyful, and lifelong path to self-knowledge. Many traditions teach that spiritual connection comes through transcending the self (through meditation, etc.). The underlying premise of spiritual alchemy, however, is that we connect with the divine—and learn to hear the voice of our soul (the part of us that is part of the divine)—through who we are today.
Instead of transcending the self, we aim to know the self—our whole self, including what Carl Jung called the shadow, the parts of our being that we prefer to deny. We need to look fearlessly into our inner mirror and acknowledge the opposite (and perhaps not very flattering) impulses that live within us. Only then, by integrating and balancing these opposing impulses, can we grow emotionally and spiritually to the point where we can hear the wisdom and guidance of our soul.
A spiritual alchemist, then, is someone who is not afraid to look in that mirror—that is, someone who knows that true freedom comes from self-knowledge. A spiritual alchemist models his or her quest on the beliefs of the ancient alchemists, who believed that everything they did in this earthly world paralleled what was occurring “above,” in the divine world. Their belief was “as above, so below”: when they attempted to turn base metals into pure ones, many were equally attempting to do the same with their souls.
Spiritual alchemists are essentially people who yearn to deepen their connection to the “above”—to the divine—and who are willing to take the risk of being their own persons, no matter what the cost “below,” in their desire to maintain that connection.
In brief, spiritual alchemy is a path of authenticity and integrity. As a practice, it is joyous. The greater our compassionate self-knowledge, the closer we come to being able to connect with our purest source of wisdom, inspiration, and creativity.
What follows are some musings of my own, which I hope will stimulate your interest in spiritual alchemy and in its benefits for all seekers of self-knowledge and connection with the divine.
III. Bumps on the road of spiritual alchemy
Time and again, people who do the exercises in The Spiritual Alchemist tell me in amazement that the process is profound, enlightening, yet “painless.” Surprised by that word, I came to realize that people expect transformational work to hurt, like painful discoveries in a therapist’s office or the sudden pang of realization that we aren’t as strong or as wise or as loving as we thought we were. But nobody seems to ask the question of exactly who or what is “hurt” on the path towards becoming fully realized individuals.
From the viewpoint of spiritual alchemy, the only thing that gets hurt in transformational work is our ego. By “ego,” I mean our small, fragile, and fearful idea of what our personality is all about. For example, if I say that I am a nice person, and if to be at peace with myself I need to believe that I am always nice, then admitting that certain actions of mine aren’t nice could feel very painful.
But a spiritual alchemist knows that the “pain” is only in the small ego, whereas the awareness that I am both nice and not-nice allows me to know the real truth of my being. Once I know my genuine personal truth, I no longer need to pretend that I am always nice or to deny my not-nice behavior (“oh, I never could have done that!”). I am now free to forgive myself, to make amends to whomever I hurt, and to joyfully get on with my life.
I believe that the power of the soul trumps the power of the ego. The ego is a flimsy protective structure we created to allow us to survive emotionally as children and, perhaps, as adults. But the soul, unlike the self-constructed ego, is what has created us. It is vast, wise, and loving. It is our source of wisdom. It knows why we are here, what we came to do, and how to help us through the hard times.
Those who walk the path of spiritual alchemy trust in the voice of their soul. They do the exercises playfully, understanding that an instant of self-recognition can be much more funny than painful—and that a moment’s worth of “oh no, am I really like that” leads to a lifetime of freedom and joy. Transformative processes do not need to “hurt” any more than the pinprick of an injection. Only the ego is wounded, not the essential person that you truly are.
I believe that we are stronger than our egos, because we can survive shame or embarrassment or ego humiliation. Only by holding on to those feelings do we cause ourselves ego pain. Learning to work with the “opposite voice” exercise, for example, will help you see and accept yourself beyond the limits of your ego. When you begin to laugh at yourself and your foibles, you’re home free.
Too many of us, however, hold on to old feelings as a matter of course: old grudges, old hurts, old guilt, self-criticism for what we did or didn’t do, feelings of regret or anger or bitterness. When we hold on to unacknowledged hurts and disappointments long enough, they can turn into resentment or feelings of being cheated. Ultimately, holding on to feelings creates a kind of emotional constipation. Not surprisingly, learning what feelings are blocking us, and discovering what we need to do to release them, is part of the practice of spiritual alchemy.
Yet sometimes, despite our best intentions and committed practice, self-knowledge eludes us. We come up against an emotional blank wall, a dead end. If the underlying reason is fear of discovering something we’d rather not know about ourselves, or anxiety that knowing the truth will somehow defeat us, the exercises in The Spiritual Alchemist can help us to feel and then release those emotions.
But sometimes even experienced spiritual alchemists come up against something so deep in unconscious history that it keeps our full energy from flowing smoothly and blocks our path to self-knowledge. At times like these, we turn to whoever we believe can get us past the blind spot.
When this happens to me, I turn to spiritual energy healer Ruth Abrass (firstname.lastname@example.org)—to whom I have dedicated the book—to help me get through the block. This part of her work is called Psychogenics, based on the belief that many problems have their origin in the human mind, spirit, or psyche. Psychogenics is a benign method by which the underlying origins of these problems are revealed and released. Working with a dowsing rod, she becomes a conduit between her client and spirit.
We work together to find and release obstructions in the energy fields around the physical body. She likens these obstructions to knots in muscles; their release allows the muscle to regain health and work appropriately. Fully releasing these "knots" restores energies and balance to the subtle bodies, so that what once seemed an insurmountable problem becomes either easily solved or non-existent.
The work Ruth does not only is profoundly illuminating but also forces me to deeply know and feel what I was not able to know or feel before. As a result, I am able to hear the voice of my soul at a yet deeper level. I now can return to my practice refreshed, with replenished natural energy and even greater self-awareness.
Knowing when to turn to someone—but without becoming dependent—is also part of spiritual alchemy. Whom we turn to, of course, depends on us and our individual needs. While the exercises in The Spiritual Alchemist will lead you to rich self-discovery, they cannot make you completely self-reliant every moment of every day. That is not the human condition. As I say several times in the book, we are here not to learn to be perfect but to learn to be human. The beauty of the path of spiritual alchemy is that it leads us joyfully into the fullness of that humanity.
Welcome to The Spiritual Alchemist and the practice of spiritual alchemy. If you are one of the people for whom I wrote the book, I hope it offers you everything you need at this time of your life.